honest fantasy

June 1, 2019

The fantastic literature of my childhood centred around two authors: Tolkien and Lewis. Anyone more than familiar with both men will know their religious history, that Lewis was an atheist who, under Tolkien’s guidance, became first a theist of no particular affiliation, and then a good Anglican whose works on Christianity, while touted by modern American Evangelicals, were radical enough to place him well outside of the conservative mainstream in this country even now. Tolkien was a devout Catholic, very conservative, to the point that when Vatican II changed the liturgical response from Latin to English, he refused to make the transition. What has always interested me about these two is how that religiosity impacted on their primary works. I always knew Narnia was a thin metaphor, even as a child. It wasn’t until I was much older that I met people who read the books as honest fantasy, and were surprised when shown the undercurrents. I think that says something about how thoroughly the core themes of religious metaphor have penetrated the expectations of our collective genre narrative. Tolkien, on the other hand, did not write didactically. I’ve had more arguments with earnest Christians about this than I care to think about, but Tolkien is on record as saying that he despised didactic writing, chided Lewis for the thin veil of metaphor that he employed in the Narnia stories, and insisted that his Middle Earth wasn’t a secret instructional manual for anything. He did, however, say that The Lord of the Rings was a “fundamentally Catholic” story. That’s because Tolkien was a Catholic, and anything he produced was going to be coloured by that thought system. And yet these two imaginations, both men professors and therefore prone to instruction, both men devout in their belief, both wonderfully creative in their storytelling, these two writers produced very different sorts of stories, especially when viewed as religious works. It’s always fascinated me, and confounded my father. It’s something we talk about a lot.

Tim Akers
Faith in the Fantastic

fabio leone - galadriel's mirror

Many things I can command the Mirror to reveal,’ she answered, `and to some I can show what they desire to see. But the Mirror will also show things unbidden, and those are often stranger and more profitable than things which we wish to behold. What you will see, if you leave the Mirror free to work, I cannot tell. For it shows things that were, and things that are, things that yet may be. But which it is that he sees, even the wisest cannot always tell. Do you wish to look?

J.R.R Tolkien
The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring
(The Mirror of Galadriel)

Tolkien’s lectures…

February 6, 2015

lordofRings

“I went to [Tolkien’s] public lectures. They were absolutely appalling. In those days a lecturer could be paid for his entire course even if he lost his audience, provided he turned up for the first lecture. I think that Tolkien made quite a cynical effort to get rid of us so he could go home and finish writing Lord of the Rings.

“He gave his lectures in a very, very small room and didn’t address us, his audience, at all. In fact he looked the other way, with his face almost squashed up against the blackboard. He spoke in a mutter. His mind was on finishing Lord of the Rings, and he was really musing to himself about the nature of narrative. But I found this so fascinating that I came back week after week, as did one other person. I’ve always wondered what became of him, because he was obviously equally fascinated. And because we stuck there, Tolkien couldn’t go away and write Lord of the Rings! He would say the most marvelous things about the way you take a very basic plot and twitch it here and twitch it there — and it becomes a completely different plot.”

Diana Wynne Jones